Now, average life expectancy for American women is 82 years of age, and it is continuing to rise. Not only are women living longer, but they also can expect the possibility of enjoying a better quality of life throughout their span of years. To accomplish this, it is essential that women take charge of their own bodies and that they comprehend how they can maximize their personal health and fitness.
Many diseases affect both women and men alike, but some diseases occur at a higher frequency in women. About 18% of women in the U.S. suffer migraine headaches compared with only 6% of men, a ratio of three females to one male. Other conditions seen more often in women than in men include irritable bowel syndrome and urinary tract infections. Urinary tract infections, including cystitis (bladder infection) and kidney infection (pyelonephritis), are significant health problems that especially affect women. Kidney disease is a leading cause of high blood pressure (hypertension). And, after age 50, hypertension is more common in women than in men.
Getting checked early can help you stop diseases like cancer, diabetes, and osteoporosis in the very beginning when they’re easier to treat. Screening tests can spot illnesses even before you have symptoms. Which screening tests you need depends on your age, family history, your own health history, and other risk factors. Today, thanks in large part to an unprecedented national focus on women’s health, women are being more effectively screened and treated for a whole host of diseases. Women are being diagnosed earlier and living longer.
Gynecology is the primary branch of medical science concerned with women’s health issues. The word “gynecology” is a word consisting of “gyno,” meaning “woman,” and “logic,” meaning “knowledge.” Taken together, it is “woman knowledge.” It is important that every woman has access to knowledge related to the spectrum of women’s health issues, not only about her reproductive system, but about all aspects of her body.
Going to the doctor may be the last thing on your mind right now, but regular check-ups may save your health — and your life — later.
Starting in your 20s and 30s, even if you are healthy, your doctor can perform or recommend a number of simple tests to look for problems that can rob people of their health. Note that your doctor may recommend additional tests based on your personal health profile.
- Stepping on the Scales. Weight — rather, too much of it — puts you at high risk for developing a number of diseases later in life.
- Blood Pressure. Your heart (and arteries, brain, eyes, and kidneys) will thank you later.
- Cholesterol Test. Everyone age 20 and over should know their cholesterol numbers and get them checked at least once every four to six years.
- Pelvic Exam and Pap. 10 minutes of mild discomfort from the pelvic exam pays big dividends in protecting you from cancer and diseases that can cause infertility. Pap screen testing should begin at age 21. Routine screening is recommended every three years for women 21-65 years old. For women 30 to 65 years who have a normal Pap test with a negative HPV test, screening can be done every five years. Sexually active women 24 years old and younger also need to have gonorrhea, chlamydia, and HIV screening.
- Protecting Your Eyes. You may not have considered this, but at some point before you’re 40, visit an eye care provider for an exam. Go more often if you have vision problems.
- Checking Your Immunizations. Be sure to ask your doctor to update any immunizations that you might need.
Your 40s-50s are a great time to assess your current health state, correct past indiscretions and prepare your body for many more decades of your life. Your doctor can help by checking you for problems that can rob you of your health.
- Blood sugar. Decades of eating the wrong food (think soda, hot dogs, fries) plus weight gain (often due to hormone changes) may have overworked your pancreas. It can’t keep up and that can lead to diabetes. By the age of 45, everyone should get a fasting blood sugar test and then have another at least once every three years. Your doctor may recommend earlier or more frequent checking depending on your risk.
- Breast exam and mammogram. Most breast cancer experts recommend adding a mammogram to the mix somewhere after age 40.
- Blood pressure. Don’t be surprised if your blood pressure starts rising now — that’s common. Fortunately, you can lower your blood pressure through diet, exercise, and medication. It’s worth the effort. Lower blood pressure is a key factor in longevity.
- Cholesterol profile. Take heart: this simple blood test can save your life. More than 31 million adults in America have high cholesterol levels, a condition that can lead to heart attacks or strokes — diseases that claim a life every 40 seconds!
- Stepping on the scales. Pay attention to the results: being overweight puts you at high risk for developing a number of diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.
- Pelvic exam and pap. Yes, you still need these — especially if you’re sexually active. A few minutes of mild discomfort pay big dividends in protecting you from cancer and sexually transmitted diseases. Your doctor can tell you how often you need a Pap test.
- Looking for moles. Those years of getting “a healthy tan” can lead to something not so healthy — skin cancer. Luckily, most skin cancers are curable. So don’t forget to ask your doctor to check your skin if you find any moles or skin changes.
- Protecting your eyes. Be sure to get your eyes examined regularly — every 2 to 4 years until age 60 — to check for common problems like presbyopia, glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Go more often if you have vision problems or risk factors for eye problems.
- Checking your immunizations. Almost all adults should also get the flu shot each fall. If you’re over 50, you may get a shingles or a herpes zoster vaccine .
- Diabetes screening. If you are over age 44, you should be screened every 3 years. If you are overweight, ask your provider if you should be screened at a younger age.
- If you’re under 65 but past menopause, it’s an important time for you to prevent osteoporosis, a condition that weakens bones. You may need a bone density scan to check for early osteoporosis.
- Many experts suggest you get a mammogram every 1 to 2 years to check for breast cancer when you’re 50 to 74. Check with your doctor about what you should do if you’re older than 74.
• You may be due for a colonoscopy. It’s a procedure that can find small growths called polyps that have the potential to turn into colon cancer. You should get the test every 10 years or sooner if your doctor finds polyps.
Some of the most common medical office visits for women include:
- Comprehensive physicals.
- Pelvic, PAP exams, breast exams.
- Sexual health.
- Birth Control.
- Colon cancer screening.
- Menopause management.
- Depression and mood disorders.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
- Overactive bladder, urinary incontinence.
- Urinary tract infections and cystitis.
- GERD, ulcers.
- Asthma, COPD and other respiratory disorders.
- Immunization updates.